Catholic Speaker Recognizes Grief

By Michael McAuliffe
Republican [Chicopee MA]
March 14, 2004

CHICOPEE - As Catholics in Western Massachusetts continue to grapple with the recent resignation of Bishop Thomas L. Dupre amid allegations of sexual abuse, Monsignor Raymond G. East said he could detect "a kind of sense of collective

But East, an administrator in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., told those attending a conference on parish social ministry that it is not "dying time" for the church.

"This is getting-up time," East said to about 165 people who came to hear his keynote address. "This is rising time. This is healing time."

The conference, titled "At The Crossroads Of Anger And Hope," included workshops on hunger and homelessness, evangelization in the urban community and how to begin a parish social ministry.

But the impact of the sex scandal, in which Dupre resigned as head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield following allegations he sexually abused two boys beginning more than 25 years ago when he was a parish priest, led to a decision to change the title of the conference. It was originally to be called "... And Justice for All."

Dupre, 70, who became bishop in 1995, resigned hours after The Republican confronted him Feb. 10 with the abuse allegations.

He is now the subject of a criminal investigation, and his accusers last week filed a civil suit against him in Hampden Superior Court.

In welcoming remarks yesterday, Monsignor Richard S. Sniezyk said consideration was given to canceling the biennial conference, but he then told the audience their focus should be on Jesus Christ.

"He is the head of the church. As long as we keep that in mind, we will always have hope," he said.

East, director of the Office of Black Catholics and vicar for evangelization for the Washington archdiocese, said that he also sensed his audience had a collective need to come together and that it knew it couldn't stop the work to help those in need.

"You are the beloved of God, the anointed of God," East said.

Longmeadow resident James C. Russell said the gospel message is a call to social action. But he also expressed outrage at the situation regarding Dupre, and said the church would grow stronger with "more power and a stronger voice" for the laity.

"The church is not the bishop," he said. "The church is the people."

Orange resident Kathryn G. Schiappa attended the conference in order to gain more skills to help the needy.

"I don't have a problem with the church," she said.

The conference was co-sponsored by Catholic Charities and the Institute for Theology and Pastoral Studies at Elms College.

Four individuals and two organizations were also honored with the first Social Justice Ministry awards, named in honor of Sister Annette McDermott, former director of the Office of Catholic Social Concerns for the diocese.


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